Book Review: The Free Bastards by Jonathan French
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of The Lot Lands
Publisher: Del Rey (September 28, 2021)
Length: 560 pages
The Lot Lands trilogy comes to a close with The Free Bastards, centering on the final member of our True Bastards hoof trio, the thriceblood known as Oats. It’s also important to note that although every novel in the series has followed a different character, each story builds upon the events that happened before. As such, these books aren’t really meant to be read as standalones, and experiencing them in chronological order is recommended.
As the novel begins, the inevitable war with Hispartha has finally come to the Lot Lands, and Oats, loyal friend and Bastard that he is, finds himself on the front lines because he knows that’s where he belongs. Our protagonist is aware that he’s nothing special, unlike his friends Jackal, god-touched and off on his own mission, or Fetching, who has brought the people of the Lots together into a grand army and now leads them as their new war chief. However, Oats has never desired for anything more than to fight for his hoof, and being three-quarters orc has always made him bigger and stronger than his half-blood brethren, making him very good at what he does.
Unfortunately, the forces of Hispartha also have their divine warriors and dark sorcery, and Oats soon realizes this isn’t a war they can win through brute strength alone. The stakes are high, and should the half-orc rebellion fail, their enemies would bring ruin to all the Lot Lands and the hoofs that live within them. With the lives of his loved ones on the line, Oats must make the difficult choice to journey to the heart of the human’s empire rescue his friends and confront the scheming wizard who betrayed them. Once there, it will take more than brawn and violence to survive the dangerous political quagmire of Hispartha, unless the frails make the mistake of pushing our thriceblood Bastard a little too far…
I’ve got to hand it to Jonathan French. Oats began the series as a peripheral character, hovering just on the edge of my attention. Sure, he was interesting enough, but still incomparable to the larger-than-life personalities of Jackal or Fetch and the excitement of their rip-roaring adventures. But all of that’s changed with The Free Bastards, which singlehandedly vaulted to Oats to the position of my favorite True Bastard. Behind his daunting scarred physique hides a thoughtful soul, deeply committed to his family and friends. Paired with a steely resolve to take on anything, this makes him the most complex of The Lot Lands protagonists.
You also best hold tight to your hog if you’re to have any chance of keeping up with the insane pacing. The book opens with a measured introduction as French takes a moment to catch readers up, tying up some loose ends from the previous books as well as to give Oats a proper introduction so that we can get reacquainted. But once all that’s taken care of, we’re off to the races, with the action coming in fast and unrelenting. If you’ve enjoyed the series thus far, you’ll certainly love this installment as well, with its vicious blood-soaked battles, ribald sweary language, and irreverent genre-bending takes on epic fantasy tropes–all of which have become The Lot Lands trademarks.
But like I said, Oats is really the highlight here. A fearsome warrior, he is also capable of much insight and compassion. Of the True Bastards trio which consists also of Jackal and Fetching, Oats was perhaps the one I connected to emotionally the most. There were moments where I felt close to tears, especially the ending, which cast such a warm, comfortable and glowing light on this trilogy of books otherwise filled with so much darkness and violence. One wouldn’t think such a conclusion would be fitting, but I felt the scene was the perfect sendoff for these characters, and the crowning glory this brilliant epic fantasy masterpiece.
So, do yourself a favor and pick up The Lot Lands if you haven’t yet. For any fantasy fan who has ever lamented the fact that high fantasy with elves and orcs seem to all feel the same, here is your cure.